When people think of Ramadhan food, the first thing that would come to mind for most Bruneians would be the popular Cendol Temburong.
Tucked away at Kg Batang Tuau, Temburong, the family business grew from humble beginnings to becoming one of the most iconic and best-loved rice flour-based local desserts; going strong for more than 30 years now.
Cendol Temburong which is named after the founder’s district of origin has stood the test of time to remain the all-time favourites among locals, offering two versions of their famous cendol; the classic santan or the “gula melaka” (palm sugar) cendol.
When Hj Saban Hj Yahya first started his business in the 1980s, he would sell an average of 800 to 900 cendol per day during Ramadhan month and 200 cendol on regular days, with most customers knowing about the business through word-of-mouth.
Nowadays, their home-based stall is always packed with customers waiting to have a taste of their popular cendol. Most of their customers would even turn up earlier than the opening hours to avoid any chance of the cendol being sold out.
A loyal customer, Saiyidah who drove all the way from Telisai, Tutong to Temburong just to buy their gula melaka cendol said, “Their cendol tastes like no other. It is very nostalgic and the taste has not changed at all since I was kid.”
Own cendol recipe comes to fruition
When Hj Saban first decided to open Cendol Temburong, he did it just to earn a little extra income to support his family. Recognising the growing demand for cendol, he taught himself how to make the local dessert from scratch.
The 75-year-old has been keeping his cendol recipe close to his heart. It took him years of experimenting with the ingredients and techniques to improve the quality of the cendol.
Hj Saban said that when they first started selling cendol at a small canteen in Gadong in 1996, the home business quickly gained recognition. Little did Hj Saban expect that the business would eventually generate an average income of $1000 – $3000 per month.
As business started blooming, every year Hj Saban and his family would travel from Temburong to sell their home-made cendol, from Tamu Muhibbah Aneka Selera in Temburong to Gerai Ramadhan at the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium.
This year, however, since the cancellation of Ramadhan bazaars across the sultanate due to COVID-19, the family decided to set up a stall in front of their own home in Temburong and also deliver door-to-door to customers, depending on requests.
“Alhamdulillah, ever since they opened the Temburong Bridge, it has been easier for us to deliver our cendol to Bandar,” he said, “Before this, we would have to transport them by boat or a long drive through Limbang, Malaysia.”
Hj Saban said that during this fasting month the business saw a higher demand from its customers, “This year alone, on the first day of Ramadan we managed to sell more than 6000 cendol per day, which is three times more compared with normal days,” he said.
Steps behind the flavourful dessert
Cendol Temburong is known for its perfect blend of sweet and aromatic gula melaka and its savoury coconut milk.
The secret to Cendol Temburong’s popularity lies in its original recipes, which have not been altered in the 30 years since its founding, said the founder.
Every day at their home kitchen, Hj Saban and his family would start preparing and making the three main components made entirely from homemade ingredients; the pandan-flavoured jelly (cendol), gula melaka (palm sugar) and coconut milk.
It is all about the quality, Hj Saban added. To make the cendol every step must be meticulously executed; from the quality of the cendol, amount of gula melaka used and to the boiling time.
According to Hj Saban one batch of cendol takes seven to eight hours to cook and requires constant stirring.
“We start preparing and boiling the cendol from 3pm to 10pm,” he explained. For him, the timing is crucial for the texture of the cendol. “If you leave it for too long, you would lose the pandan aroma.”
Furthermore, according to him, the coconut milk (santan) used in their cendol is freshly squeezed from grated coconut, giving the coconut milk an authentic and rich creamy texture.
Coconut milk processing would normally start from 4am to 9am, added Hj Saban.
Beyond the quality of the recipes, Hj Saban and his family ensure that the cendol and coconut milk are packaged separately to preserve the taste and texture.
“There’s a lot of preparatory work in making the cendol, each of our members would work around the clock in doing everything to keep the taste the same,” he said adding that even though it’s tiring, he enjoys the family bonding aspect of preparing the cendol.
When asked about the secret to Cendol Temburong’s success, Hj Saban humbly answered, “our customers.”
Hj Saban expressed his gratitude towards their customer’s continuous support in their business. “Our customers have always been the push behind the business’s growth and success,” he said.
Even though the business is mostly run by the family members of Hj Saban, the home-based business would also provide opportunities for local youths who are looking for a little extra income and experience.
Motivated by his own success, Hj Saban is always encouraging local youths to boldly venture into entrepreneurship.
However, he admits that starting the business has its own sets of challenges but in the end, it all comes back to family and determination.
One of the biggest challenges he said is preserving the business, the 75-year-old hopes to be able to pass down his legacy to the next generation. When the time comes to retire, he hopes that his children will be able to carry on the business.
“It’s not easy operating a business on your own,” he said. However Cendol Temburong is set to carry on the family line of their famous cendol for many more years to come.
The Bruneian | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN